In 2018, the San Francisco 49ers set a pair of NFL records that are almost hard to fathom in this day and age of offense in the league. Robert Saleh’s defenders faced 542 pass attempts and a total of 579 passing plays.
Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Antone Exum each recorded an interception over the course of 16 games, the latter returning his theft 32 yards for a score in what eventually proved to be a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
But that’s it. That’s the Niners’ interception total for all of 2018, setting a new league record for futility in this department. In fact, Kyle Shanahan’s club managed a not-so-grand total of seven takeaways last season, another dubious NFL record. Considering that this was a defensive unit that was loaded up front with first-round draft choice and a group that produced 37 sacks, you would expect the San Francisco defense to be a little more opportunistic.
But what a difference a year makes. In the team’s 31-17 victory at Tampa in Week 1, Saleh’s defense picked off Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston three times (Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman returned their thefts for scores), linebacker Mark Nzeocha had the other pick and defensive end Ronald Blair recovered a fumble by tight end O.J. Howard.
Will we see these 49ers come up with a few more takeaways Sunday at Cincinnati?